How this 'hilot' spa became a multimillion peso business

Posted at 02/08/2014 8:48 AM | Updated as of 02/10/2014 4:08 PM
Nol Montalbo, owner of Mont Albo Massage Hut

MANILA, Philippines - Nol Montalbo still can't believe how successful his spa business, Mont Albo Massage Hut, has become.

"Hindi ko pa rin po kaya tanggapin na mayaman, pero gumanda po buhay namin dahil po sa negosyo. Hindi ko rin po naisip na magkakaroon ako ng negosyo," Montalbo told Karen Davila on "My Puhunan."

The 34-year old entrepreneur recounted how he started his business, using his prized possession -- a watch -- as collateral for a P1,500 loan.

Montalbo, the eldest of four children, was a student of medicine at UP Manila, when his parents' business collapsed.

"Mga naririnig mo na, doctor ka nga, maski singko wala ka naman. Ganoon ka harsh ang society na kahit ano natapos mo, wala yun. Pag wala kang pera, iba tingin sa yo ng mga tao. Kahit pambayad sa kuryente noon, inuutang namin... Talagang gipit, maski pamasahe wala," he said.

He wasn't able to practice medicine, but decided he would start a business to help his family recover. So he decided to ask a classmate for a loan.

"May classmate ako na Chinese sa med school. Sabi niya, hindi ako magpapa-utang kung walang collateral. Wala naman ako collateral, except relo ko. Hindi naman siya mamahalin, pero yun ang binigay ko na collateral. Nagpa-utang siya ng P1,500," said Montalbo, who still keeps the watch until now.

He used the money to start a soap-making business.

"Minsan idideliver mo, hindi naman pala bibilhin so babalik ka ng walang pera. May computer shop kami doon, doon talaga ako nag-stay hanggang madaling araw, hanggang maka-benta ako ng sabon," he said, in tears. "Kailangan ko ng pamasahe pauwi kasi wala akong titirahan dito sa Maynila."

His hard work paid off when a client ordered 70,000 pieces of his home-made soap to be given as Christmas giveaway. He earned P200,000 from the bulk order, which he used as capital for a spa specializing on "hilot", a traditional Filipino massage.

For the spa's first branch, he rented a two-floor apartment Makati City. The first floor was used as the spa, while he and his family and therapists lived on the second floor.

While other spas specialized in Thai or Swedish massage, he thought of specializing"hilot".

"Naisip ko kasi dati ang spa, massage pang-mayaman... Laking-hilot kasi kami. Bakit hindi siya ilagay sa spa? Iyon ‘yong primary source ng health ng mga Filipino noon. Bakit hindi siya gamitin ngayon? So sabi ko, ilagay natin siya sa spa," Montalbo said.

He said the secret to his spa business is the quality of the massage.

"Ang importante po sa massage, is ‘yong massage itself. The quality of the massage. Para pong sa restaurant, kahit gaano kaganda ang interior mo, pag kumain ‘yong tao diyan, iyon [pagkain] ang maaalala niya, hindi ‘yong ambience. Kung hindi masarap ‘yong pagkain, hindi sila babalik diyan. So sa spa po, ganoon din, ‘yong massage talaga," he said.

Mont Albo Massage Hut offers professional "hilot" massage in a modern setting, and even offers meals for customers. Massage therapists undergo professional training.

Because of the quality of his service, in just eight years, he has opened 28 branches of Mont Albo Massage Hut in Luzon and Visayas. Each branch earns P300,000 to P600,000 a month.

Montalbo offered some advice for budding entrepreneurs.

“Ang pagiging entrepreneur, hindi siya talaga para sa lahat pero naaaral po talaga siya. Kung pang-empleyado talaga ‘yong puso mo, doon ka. Pero kung kaya mong mag-sugal, mag-take ng risk, na mag-business, i-try mo," he said.

“Wala po talaga sa kursong natapos, hindi po ‘yan ang magdidkta kung magiging successful ka sa buhay. Talagang dapat, you have to have this discipline. You should be hard-working. Kung meron ka noong dalawang ‘yon, and of course a strong faith, very very strong faith in God, at no matter kung saan ka dalhin, you have this strong faith na everything becomes meaningful, kahit may problema, you’ll be successful."